The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima a decade ago has not damaged the health of local people, according to a UN report.
Gillian Hirth, chairwoman of the UN’s scientific committee on the effects of atomic radiation (Unscear), said that “no adverse health effects among Fukushima residents have been documented that could be directly attributed to radiation exposure from the accident” in March 2011.
Unscear said the latest findings supported a 2013 report on the health impact of radiation released after three reactors suffered meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The latest report was released as Japan prepared to mark 10 years since a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier.
The incident forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people, many of whom have not returned to their homes 10 years later.
Concern over the potential health effects of the accident rose after reports of a high incidence of thyroid cancer in children living in Fukushima prefecture at the time of the disaster.
Unscear and other experts have attributed the higher rates to the use of highly sensitive ultrasound equipment and the large number of children who have been examined.
The first round of tests, conducted between 2011 and 2015, identified 116 cases of actual or suspected thyroid cancer among more than 300,000 people aged 18.
“On the balance of available evidence, the large increase … in the number of thyroid cancers detected among exposed children is not the result of radiation exposure,” Unscear said.
“Rather, they are the result of ultrasensitive screening procedures that have revealed the prevalence of thyroid abnormalities in the population not previously detected.”
Gerry Thomas, director of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank and chair of molecular pathology at Imperial College London, said she was not surprised that Unscear and other bodies had ruled out a link between the thyroid cancer cases and radiation from Fukushima.
“The thyroid radiation doses post-Fukushima were about 100 times lower than after Chernobyl due to a number of factors”, Thomas said, adding that “all the evidence we have on levels of exposure and the data from the health screening programme in Fukushima suggests that it is very unlikely that we will see any increase in thyroid cancer in these children, who are now adolescents and young adults”.
But in a report released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the triple disaster, Greenpeace Japan warned that large areas near the plant where evacuation orders have been lifted in recent years had still not been properly decontaminated, leaving returning residents exposed to potentially harmful levels of radiation for decades.
“Successive governments during the last 10 years … have attempted to perpetrate a myth about the nuclear disaster,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace East Asia. “They have sought to deceive the Japanese people by misrepresenting the effectiveness of the decontamination programme and ignoring radiological risks.”